France overhauls its special visa for tech talent

The French government has unveiled a complete overhaul of the French Tech Visa for employees working for a tech company. And France is taking a contrarian stance by making it easier to come work in France.

Let’s start with the big number. According to French Tech Mission director Kat Borlongan, there are more than 10,000 startups that meet the requirements to access the French Tech Visa and hire foreign employees more easily. (And if you live in the European Union, you don’t need a visa, of course.)

I asked Borlongan why it was important to overhaul the French Tech Visa. “Because our startups needed it,” she told me. “There are two dimensions to that. There’s the economic supply-demand part — all the high-growth startups we interviewed pretty unanimously said that hiring was their number one priority and that they were looking for profiles that weren’t readily available in France.”

“The second is cultural. As strong an ecosystem as the French Tech is becoming, it’s still perceived as overwhelmingly French. To succeed globally, we need to become global ourselves, in terms of team composition, mindset, markets, etc.”

Unlike many American visas, you don’t need to prove that you’ve been looking for candidates in France. You don’t need to pay crazy-high immigration lawyer fees — the French Tech Visa costs €368 in administrative fees. Future employees don’t need to meet any diploma requirement.

The previous version of the visa was limited to roughly 100 companies that were selected as part of the Pass French Tech program. Employees also had to graduate with a master’s degree. So it’s a huge change.

And it’s a pretty sweet deal for foreign employees as well. Your visa is valid for four years and renewable after that. You don’t have to stay in the same company — you can work for another company and keep your visa. Your family also gets visas so they can come with you.

If your startup has raised money from a VC fund, has been part of an accelerator, has received state funding or has the JEI status, then you’re eligible.

La French Tech and the French government have created various lists of VC funds, accelerators, grants, etc. If you meet one of those conditions, you can apply to the visa program. You’ll find most VC funds and accelerators based in France (but not all of them), as well as a few foreign companies (Y Combinator, 500 Startups, Techstars, Entrepreneur First, Plug and Play, Startupbootcamp). Those lists will be updated multiple times per year.

Startups that want to take advantage of the French Tech Visa need to complete an online form first — the full list of VC funds and accelerators is embedded in the form. Future employees can then get their visa from their home country at the French Consulate.

The French tech ecosystem has been growing rapidly. And many French startups have chosen to work in English and hire foreign talent. Tech talent is becoming a global talent pool, so this visa scheme is essential for the future of the French tech ecosystem.